State police pay concerns some Indiana lawmakers

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Stagnant pay for Indiana State Police troopers has some lawmakers worried that the agency will lose officers to higher-paying departments.

Troopers receive annual experience raises until they reach 20 years, but a 2-percent increase to their base pay that takes effect this summer is the first such increase in seven years.

State Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, said the annual salary of about $38,000 for first-year troopers leaves the state police at risk of having its officers hired away.

"There are certain things and certain requirements and obligations that the state has and this is one of them for our public safety officials," said Arnold, a former LaPorte County sheriff.

Legislative leaders agreed to Arnold's request that the State Budget Committee review state police pay scales and compare those with other police agencies to determine whether the salary issue has caused higher turnover rates. The committee will prepare recommendations for lawmakers to possibly consider during next year's General Assembly session.

The current state police pay scale gives troopers annual pay bumps of about 2 percent for each year of experience until they top out at about $60,000 after 20 years. Troopers with officer titles receive slightly more for each step up in rank.

State police spokesman Capt. David Bursten said that scale hasn't increased since a significant boost in 2007 that gave the department comparable pay with law enforcement agencies in Indiana and other states. That status has eroded, however, as state government faced spending cuts amid revenue declines during the recession.

Bursten said several city police departments in Indiana now pay better than the state police, pointing to the nearly $63,000 salary for a third-year Indianapolis officer, which tops the pay for a 20-year trooper.

"What we're hoping will come out of this study is a long-term, permanent fix on how pay raises are allocated," Bursten said.

A topic for the committee's review will be how much pay has led to turnover among the agency's some 1,200 troopers.

The new two-year state budget that takes effect July 1 includes about $2 million toward the 2-percent pay raise for troopers.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said the state's finances haven't been strong enough in recent years to consider significant pay raises.

Kenley, who is also a member of the State Budget Committee, said he didn't know whether more could be done in the short term to improve state police salaries.

"We want to give them proper pay and have them be competitive not only with other officers, but other states," Kenley said. "We just need to go through the whole drill with the study."

Other state employees received standard pay increases of 1 percent to 3 percent or one-time bonuses of several hundred dollars in recent years after pay freezes in 2009 and 2010.

Arnold said he didn't have a specific proposal for closing the pay gap but believes the troopers have been overlooked while the state's cash reserves have grown to nearly $2 billion.

"I have to believe it is simply part of the program that we have to cut and cut to maintain and build up this surplus," he said. "There are certain requirements and obligations that the state has — and this is one of them to our public safety officials."

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